As the saying goes, “Genius is sorrow’s child.”
Psychologists Christopher Long and Dara Greenwood recently investigated the connection between death and creativity. They asked a group of undergraduates to write humorous captions for New Yorker cartoons. Some of the students were first primed with subliminal messages of death. These students produced cartoons judged to be more creative and more humorous. The conclusion is that the inability to acknowledge and mourn loss leads to a shutdown of vital creative impulses. On the flip side, the resolution of loss allows for a fresh start and renewed access to sources of creativity.
Mourning, it seems, is not only vital for our mental health but for our creative lives as well.
This might explain why a disproportionately large number of creative geniuses lost a parent, usually a father, at a young age. A study of some 700 historical figures found that 35% lost a parent by age 15, and nearly half by age 20. The list includes Dante, Bach, Darwin, Michelangelo, Mark Twain, Virginia Woolf and more. These creative geniuses possessed not only an ability to rebound from suffering but also to transform that suffering into creativity.
Bill gates, Steve Jobs, Woody Allen. All college dropouts. Einstein’s PhD dissertation was rejected twice. Thomas Edison dropped out of school at age fourteen. While some geniuses (Marie Curie and Sigmund Freud, for example) were stellar students, most were not.
In a study of some 300 creative geniuses, Dean Simonton found that the majority made it only halfway through what was considered a modern education at the time. Any more, or less, was detrimental. So while some education is essential to creative genius, it seems that beyond a certain point, more education does not increase the chances of genius but instead lowers it.
The deadening effect of formal education manifests itself surprisingly early. Psychologists have identified the exact year when a child’s creative thinking skills plateau: the fourth grade.
Everybody ought to do at least two things each day that he hates to do, just for the practice. – William James
As opposed to the Ego which can be called our False Self. Our True Self is our soul. Once discovered, our True Self can serve as an incredible reference point that is both within us and beyond us.
Our True Self knows that there is nowhere to go or get to, we are already at home. It doesn’t strive or reach, cling or grasp, it simply is.
If only we can find and embrace our soul, our True Self, we will stumble upon the utter freedom that has been around us and within us all along.
When Albert Einstein was on his death bed surrounded by friends they asked him, “Al, is there anything else you would like to tell us before you go?” And he responded, “Yes. I’d really like to know if the universe is friendly. Because if it is, 90% of our reactions are useless.”